Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Aunt Elizabeth

Elizabeth Jane [Anderson] Regan died at the age of 97 in 1995.  She was my great-aunt, sister of my grandmother Gwendolyn [Anderson] Danielsen.  And she was quite a lady.

Aunt Elizabeth was more a grandmother to me than Gwen, who visited infrequently and died when I was about 15.  I don't recall what instigated our correspondence and close relationship, but Aunt Elizabeth and I wrote back and forth for years.  I also drove from Long Island to Connecticut to visit her several times after I got my first car, and before I moved across the country.  She was such a loving, resilient woman. 

Long before I really got to know her, Aunt Elizabeth's husband left her due to, as I understand it, discouragement over one too many business failures.  He left Aunt Elizabeth to raise 4 boys on her own [and they in turn became successful husbands and fathers].  He then returned to his wife when he grew older and learned he was dying.  Aunt Elizabeth was a better woman than I would have been; she took him in, nursed him, and eventually buried him.  We never spoke of this.  Aunt Elizabeth referred to him only twice in our letters, once mentioning having to travel to take him for medical treatment; once years later, after my own divorce, as an example of the difficulties encountered in marriage.

Always upbeat and willing to listen, Aunt Elizabeth definitely had her own point of view but was always tolerant of others' opinions.  For visitors she would put out her best china, set the antique table crowded into her tiny apartment, cook a roast and serve a hot lunch or dinner.  In all her letters over the years, she never failed to say she loved me; encouraged me to move back east, preferably to her little town; and passed on news of her sons and their families, most of whom I never met.

I did meet the wife and children of one Regan son who unfortunately died young; his family lived nearby to Aunt Elizabeth and enjoyed a very close relationship with her.  I have been unsuccessful in tracking this family down, although I think I have located one married daughter online...should I try to re-establish contact?  It's been about 40 years since we met!

Due to Aunt Elizabeth's ideas of what was proper and right, her descriptions of family life and genealogical data was somewhat limited and sometimes skewed...her father was a "loving but strict" father who believed children should be "seen but not heard" at the dinner table.  Her parents were "happily married".  Her sister, my grandmother married my grandfather the "proper" amount of time before their first child was born, etc.  Turns out her parents had many disagreements over religion [she was Irish Catholic, he Protestant or Presbyterian; the children were raised Catholic]; my grandparents married 5 months before my father was born; and if photos are anything to go by, my great-grandfather possessed a rather dour personality.  As I recall hearing, both of William Anderson's sons were estranged from him until shortly before he died.

Toward the end of her life when she became ill, one of Aunt Elizabeth's sons moved her down south to live nearby to his family; that is where she died.  She passed away just before receiving my letter telling her I'd just realized my dream of owning horse property.  Her daughter-in-law was kind enough to reply and let me know of Aunt Elizabeth's passing.  I still miss her.

And I wonder - what became of the portrait Aunt Elizabeth had of her mother as a young woman?  I have only one photo of my great-grandmother, as she died young, at the age of 50.  I would love to have even a photo of that portrait.

Aunt Elizabeth & nephew Edward Danielsen, circa 1980

Aunt Elizabeth [center]  with sisters
Lillian [left] and Gwen [right] ca. 1920

Regans, Danielsens, Marie Anderson, William Anderson
circa 1935

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